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Why “Cry It Out” Sucks and What You Can Do Instead

What is “cry it out”?

Cry it out (cio) is an often incorrectly used sleep training method devised by Dr. Richard Ferber, which parents use “controlled crying,” also known as the Ferber method in order to get their baby to “sleep through the night”. Details laid out in his book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems explain the sleep training method, more information found here and here. “cio,” or “Ferberization,” is often incorrectly used, and is incorrectly named.

I have heard many moms claim that when they attempted to “Ferberize” their infant, felt like horrible mothers. Some claim it was the best thing they ever did. More than likely moms felt horrible because they tend to start the process too early. A newborn, especially breastfeed, is supposed to wake throughout the night; in fact, there is evidence that a newborn who wakes several times a night has a lesser chance of dying from SIDS.

According to Dr. Ferber, infants trained no later than six months and no sooner than 4.5 to 5 months, depending on the family situation should be successfully sleeping through the night in as little as 3 days, to a week.

Many stories I have heard begin this method of sleep training much too soon, when the baby is still a newborn. These feelings compounded by the fact that when someone hears the term, “cry it out,” they think of a baby laying alone, in a dark room, screaming their heads off until they pass out, no response from the caregiver whatsoever. Dr. Ferber’s method does not condone this. Yet, I heard a horror story from one mom who said she let her baby “cio,” ignoring her natural and evolutionary instinct, to respond to her baby. She said that although her baby fell asleep after some time of screaming, when she went to get the baby in the morning, he vomited from screaming so profusely. This is both unacceptable and dangerous, if not ignorant; one may align this with child neglect easily.

Dr. Ferber recommends, instead, a schedule for responsiveness. For example, on night 1 you prepare your baby for sleep through your usual nightly routine. Place the baby in the crib; leave the room and then, and only then, respond to the infant after 3 minutes of crying. When you respond, you do not spend more than one or two minutes with him and you do not pick him up, but reassure him, that he is ok. Wait 5 minutes before checking in a second time, and then again 10 minutes and then 30 minutes. On the second night, wait 5 minutes the first time, 10 the second, 30 the third, etc.

The point is not to leave your little one screaming all night, and vomiting on themselves until they fall asleep. That trains a child for nothing, except that their caregiver will not respond if called. There are also other negative impacts, which can occur if a child’s caregiver is not responsive.

That sounds horrible, what else is there?

In her book The No-Cry Sleep Solution mom Elizabeth Pantley describes a method for getting baby to sleep through the night with no tears. Some opponents of this method claim that the steps one must take in order to do achieve The No-Cry Sleep Solution are too much; it takes too long, and will not be easily achieved when there are multiple, or older children in the home. However, being a responsive parent does take some work. We had to acclimate our sons to each other’s routines after our second born came home. Mrs. Pantley describes a brilliant point that personally, I did not need to read in a book to figure out because it came with learning my first born son. It makes so much sense though, and I feel it important to stress to you now:

I was a breastfeeding, co-sleeping mom and I’d put the baby to breast at the slightest sound or movement. I learned that babies are active sleepers, and if you respond to every sound you’re reinforcing night wakings. I learned to stop and listen and see if he was putting himself back to sleep or if he needed my help. I was actually tending to a sleeping baby and when you do that you create more problems.

What worked for us?

Overall, there are many methods for helping your infant, and you get a good night’s sleep. I would be wrong if I told you that one was better than the other is – because I do not know you, your baby or your family so who am I to say what works for you? If you want to get better sleep, do some research and see what works for you, your baby and your family.

When my second son was born, we co slept and when he was done co sleeping, we moved him to a variety of sleeping apparatus (infant swing, pack and play, bassinet etc.) where I slept in close proximity to him. There was a point in time where he crib was side car’d to our bed, but that made me uncomfortable.

With some gentle prodding, he was sleeping in his crib with his brother by 5.5 months old and more recently, coming on 6 months old, he has been weaning himself off his midnight feed (sad day for me).

Once my supply was well established, and our breastfeeding relationship was strong; we decided to give him a pacifier and use a simple mobile to help ease him. We do not answer every grunt and noise that we hear over the baby monitor, but we are respond to his cry well before he has a chance to get hysterical. I also explain to him that mommy will be in the next room, but that he needs to sleep and that, I love him very much.

The overall goal should be nights that parents can live with, not eliminating night waking at all costs. In our experience, both personal, from talking to parents and from doing research is that many parents do not find one relatively short wakening per night to be hard to cope with.

Perhaps your baby is a little more sensitive and many mothers jump to conclusions that something is wrong with their baby when they cry often at night. If you have ruled out everything, then maybe your little one is simply uncomfortable. Try a mobile (until they are able to stand up in their crib), or a nightlight, a pacifier will not hurt your baby so long as it is used correctly. Or as Mrs. Pantley suggests:

A heating pad to warm his spot in the crib might work wonders – some babies simply do not like going from warm, cozy, mommy arms to a cold crib.

What is important is that you find a method that works for you, your baby and your family. It may take hours, or days (I have even hear of months) of work, and heartache. It may be so easy that you will wonder why you stressed it at all. Whatever the case is, make sure it is done responsibly and with informed choices – as always, stay responsive!

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Why I Gave Up Attachment Parenting

Recently, I noticed a great deal of mom on mom hate, mostly on some select Facebook pages I “liked” for support, or entertainment while breastfeeding and raising two boys. This snide attitude appears to originate from a fundamental style of parenting known as Attachment Parenting, or AP, something I recently learned more about after the birth of my second son in February 13, shortly before and after I choose to breastfeed. In fact, attachment parenting came with a check list:

What AP is: 7 Baby B’s:

  1. Birth bonding
  2. Breastfeeding
  3. Babywearing
  4. Bedding close to baby
  5. Belief in language value of your baby’s cry
  6. Beware of baby trainers
  7. Balance

Any loving parent who reads further on AP will likely be able to see why so many parents align with this style of parenting. After all, it is in our evolutionary and biological make up, as mammals, to nurture and comfort our babies.

But what happens when a mom gets down the check list to number 7 (balance) of the AP 7 Baby B’s and finds herself struggling? There seems to be some kind of stigma for the mom who decides to take another route, much like myself.

A mom who chooses to use a stroller, versus a baby carrier or a family who is so desperate for a night of sleep that they let their infant “cry it out.” And another biggie I notice, a mom who chooses not to, or cannot breastfeed. There is an attitude toward these moms, or families, should feel some sense of guilt and despair over not being able to successfully mark off every check mark on the list for AP style. I have seen women pour their hearts out over having had a caesarian section instead of a live, water, at home, natural birth. I have witnessed all out word-brawls from moms who are anti-circumcision against moms who are usually thinking, “it’s none of your business what my sons penis looks like, regardless of what choice I made to have him circumcised or not.”

The truth is AP is such a fundamental style of parenting, many seems to have turned it into a point of status. To make matters worse, moms who are asking for help are being talked to condescendingly, as if their parenting practices somehow make them liable for “child abuse” or “neglect” (yes, I have seen these terms needlessly thrown around several times when one several moms suggested to another desperately sleep deprived mom that she let her baby cry).

This is the furthest thing from the truth. The truth is actually that all parents and children are dynamic, that is, they are ever changing and learning from each other; there is no check list for being a good parent and no possible way to be a perfect one. To pretend as if there is, or to judge people who cannot or do not follow that check list is uncalled for in a community that needs so much support (parenting), especially when postpartum depression rates are were they’re at.

The fact is, there is a huge difference in attachment versus AP

and neither is wrong, or defines your quality of parenting.

I hope you choose to follow me on my adventure as I  learn more about, personally cultivate, and promote something known responsive parenting, because as Tracy G. Cassels wrote in her article Attachment Versus Attachment Parenting:

we know today that infants and children will form secure attachments with myriad parenting practices at play so long as the parent is responsive to his or her child.